The issuance last week of 47 advisories of high levels of fecal bacteria along New Jersey's beaches highlights an important issue facing our state: We need a permanent way to address our polluted runoff problem.
When it rains, water rolls off hardened surfaces, such as parking lots and rooftops, that prevent it from being absorbed into the soil for natural filtration. This runoff picks up everything its in path, including bacteria, debris, chemicals and other pollutants, before ending its journey in our streams, lakes and oceans. As a result, many of our waters are too polluted to meet standards for fishing and swimming, and, when polluted runoff closes our beaches, our $44 billion coastal economy, which employs more than 838,000 people, is put at risk.
The damages caused by flooding and polluted runoff in New Jersey wreak havoc on our wallets, communities, infrastructure and our environment. No one can forget last month’s record-breaking storm in Burlington and Mercer counties, which dropped more than 4 inches of rain in one day. We know that stronger storms like that one will become more frequent, dropping more rain in less time, exacerbating flooding and severely threatening the viability and capacity of our stormwater infrastructure.
In New Jersey, upgrading and maintaining the infrastructure that deals with polluted runoff and flooding is estimated to cost close to $16 billion. Meanwhile, the local governments on the front lines of these problems face a wide array of other pressing budget needs. Too often, maintaining and upgrading existing stormwater management systems is ignored. And local regulations to address runoff typically apply only to new construction, leaving the bulk of the already developed land without any effective runoff prevention systems.
But, there is a solution — and it is working in 40 states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Florida, and it would work here in New Jersey.
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